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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:34pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I don't think you mentioned the audience version of this show, but I think it also sheds light on the jam - the Playin' sounds more tough & tense than on the SBD, it almost sounds like they're trying to bully the audience... Partly that's because, with the band in mono and the instruments less distinct, the effect is more concentrated.

It might be interesting to compare to the AUD of a Playin' with a similar effect from 20 years earlier:
Typically aggressive for the time, but also deep in that dreamlike/psychedelic state.

I suspect Jerry used some of the later Dead jams & spaces to play out the stranger patterns that interested him - he mentioned how, when practicing for himself, he liked to try weird scales, stuff that didn't sound very 'musical.' And of course, he couldn't play it in JGB shows!

I'm not that into formlessness, and prefer the more patient earlier Dead jams where they do 'settle' occasionally & play more thematic things at length - there's more feeling of forward motion, to me, and more distinct 'parts' in the jams. Or perhaps I prefer music that's less dense & more approachable. Anyway, while the weird Spaces of later years are often the adventurous highlights of the shows, they're more interesting than lovable for me.

And comparatively, Mahler didn't sound that formless!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 9:38pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

To step back from this particular show, and looking at the question of dissonant and challenging music throughout the band's career, I think there is always an interesting "critique of abstract art" aspect to the discussion of "noise music" broadly defined - "Even a monkey can make a painting like that!"

People who don't like the Grateful Dead's live music at all usually take particular exception to the free music, rhetoric like "people on drugs making random noises" and the like. There are plenty of rebuttals to that, often making reference to the greats of 20th century jazz and classical composition, but even plenty of GD fans are sometimes putoff by long stretches with no steady rhythm or recognizable harmony and melody.

I've spent a lot of time listening to "difficult" music of one kind or another, and it's hard for me to give any kind of general aesthetic principle other than "I can feel the difference between when the sound has meaning and significance and communicates something, and when it might as well just be a tin can rolling down the street."

Music like Scriabin's late piano pieces, Schoenberg's atonal music prior to inventing the 12-tone system, Ligeti's work throughout his career, Messiaen's bird-song inspired works, some pieces by George Crumb, somehow succeed in creating a sound universe where everything has meaning, once your ears tune themselves to the distinctive language.

I hear, throughout the GD's career, the same kind of ability to evolve new musical languages, and do it in real-time. The magic doesn't always happen, and not every segment of improv that violates standards of rhythm and harmony gels into a coherent composition, or perhaps there is a bad ratio of "failed experiments" to "successful experiments". What makes something a success, though, is often not so much whether it ends up sounding like a song, or creating a singable melody or dance-like rhythm, but more the sense of whether or not a synthesis was accomplished.

I listen for synthesis by trying to hear whether or not the musicians are adjusting their parts to one another in real-time. Sometimes I hear what Phil called "playing ahead" where the parts just proceed in parallel - sometimes it sounds good because the parts fit, but at the same time it is lifeless, dancing next to someone rather than dancing together.

During 68-74, that quality of interaction in the moment is there a very high percentage of the time, regardless of how weird a given passage might sound. It's where the magic comes from, and one of the reasons we can discuss so endlessly is that the magic is there, to my ears, in both the chaotic noise music and the more conventional sounding groove/theme jams.

I'm with those who trace a large component of that magic to the particular musical relationship between Jerry and Phil. The great composer Johannes Brahms used to evaluate a score written by another composer by covering the middle of the page and saying "let's see what there is in your top and bottom, with all the trimmings removed" - if you have the bass line and the leading melody, you can usually hear the heart of the music. Jerry and Phil embody the relationship of melody and bass perfectly.

For me, (to finally return to pitb 7/19/94) this jam is an example of Jerry and Phil really listening to each other and taking a very wild ride through a lot of musical ideas, and the whole band seems to hop on with enthusiasm and ride the train for all its worth, and built up enough energy and steam to deliver a really huge all-out conclusion, with one of the biggest, gnarliest crescendos (15:30-16:00) and then a Mighty Theme delivered at full blast (16:10-16:40) to deliver the sense that a huge adventure has been brought to a triumphant conclusion.

All of the constantly shifting, never-finding-stability music in the previous parts of the jam to me seems to create tension which is resolved by this conclusion, which has a kind of orchestral thickness and weight that I haven't heard elsewhere, despite a lot of searching through the archive.